Cinephiles everywhere rejoiced recently to the news of a newly-released short film from filmmaker David Lynch. This surprise marked the first project from Lynch since his incredibly complicated yet visceral Twin Peaks: The Return, the much-debated film/television show that some viewers have yet to recover from. Though What Did Jack Do? was showcased at a couple of events in the past, this January release marks a true distribution for the short. It is the perfect, easily digestible treat from the surrealistic auteur.
The 17-minute short utilizes comedy, rather than the filmmaker’s usual horror, by immediately introducing a talking monkey, Jack. Jack is believed to be responsible for a murder. He sits at a table with a detective, played by Lynch himself, who smokes cigarette after cigarette. The pair’s over-the-top, hard-boiled dialogue is satirical to the language used by the masculine characters from the 1940s film noir movies. “Well, there is no Santa Claus,” Mr. Lynch says to Jack, who responds, “I won’t be here for Christmas.” The conversation continues between the two, with a waitress, Lynch’s wife, Emily Stofle, in a retro-style uniform, brings out some coffee.
The black and white footage in the locked-down train station, along with the industrious sound of mechanical engines, are reminiscent of the aesthetics used in Eraserhead, Lynch’s first-feature-turned-cult-classic. While visually comparable, the tone of the two are vastly different, exhibiting a change of the man behind the camera since Eraserhead’s debut in 1977. That premiere showcased a more visceral narrative that is fueled by anxiety and nightmarish-impossibilities that builds a tangible tension. The exact opposite is at work in What Did Jack Do? as the narrative moves forward, leading Jack to sing about his love for a chicken.
Though this new release feels more like a farce than a scene from a nightmare, the Lynchian signature is still visible. Instead of conventional animation that is found in family-friendly talking animal movies, Lynch pastes moving human lips over Jack’s mouth to make it appear as if he is speaking. Though the rest of the imagery is based in a believable reality, this specific choice is a constant reminder that monkeys aren’t fluent in the English language, calling the viewer’s attention to the oddity of the situation. Lynch’s performance is not exaggerated or overdone, adding to the striking contrast of Jack’s edited mouth, which is secretly an indication that not everything is as it seems.
Maybe this is a different view into the mind of a genius, an artist who has spent the last few decades unraveling the darkness that is hidden behind what society perceives as innocent. Or maybe What Did Jack Do? is another one of those Lynchian puzzles that only the creator will understand to the fullest depth. Either way, What Did Jack Do? is a special treat that already makes the 2020 movie season something special.
Considering a majority of cinephiles have a special place in their heart with the initials ‘D.L.’ stitched, this January release could be foreshadowing of something more to come. To prepare for this possibility, let’s brew some coffee, smother our faces in the reddest lipstick, and prepare for what the master of surrealism doing what he does best: make weird shit.